Published in: National Post Circular Economy Special Insert
Single-use plastics are now seen as a global crisis. Less than 10 percent of them are recycled. The rest are sent to landfills, dumped into lakes and oceans, burned for energy with its own environmental implications, or shipped to countries like the Philippines that are now pushing it back to us.
The issue stays in the spotlight with every news report of marine animals hurt or killed by plastic in our oceans. Governments are now committing to action and calling for collaboration to get results. The growing emergence of partnerships to create innovations such as plant-based compostable packaging can’t be overstated.
ASK THE SCIENTIST:
Calvin Lakhan, a Faculty of Environmental Studies researcher at York University in Toronto, offers his thoughts.
How does composting work?
At a very high level, it’s a controlled biological decomposition of organic materials. Micro-organisms consume organic material, utilizing carbon as a
source of energy, and nitrogen as a source of protein that allows them to reproduce.
Why is it important?
Composting helps divert organic material from landfills, and subsequently reduces the carbon footprint associated with untreated organic waste. Perhaps more
importantly, it helps promote sustainable behaviour and awareness in consumers.
What can Canadians do?
Households can participate in the Green Bin program offered by some municipalities. In those without one, an at-home composting pile can be set up.
What’s the alternative to plastic single-serve coffee pods?
Compostable pods abate twice as much carbon when compared to plastic pods, and at approximately one-twentieth of the cost. It’s the economically- and environmentally-preferred option.
Seeking alternatives to single-use plastics
For eight months, Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, Director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, co-authored the recent report, The Single Use Plastics Dilemma: Perceptions and Possible Solutions.
“Our recommendation is for the government to actually entice and encourage companies to use compostable technologies, and perhaps even help companies to commercialize these technologies,” says Dr. Charlebois. “Right now, the technologies do exist, but they’re not necessarily accessible financially. Incentives need to be brought forward to make the connection between people who actually need the technology and companies that would benefit from using different packaging.”
The good news is that change is happening. Dalhousie University’s study shows that Canadians are seeking alternative options and looking to composting and packaging-free foods. The big advantage for consumers is simplicity. “It’s convenient,” he notes. “Just put your items in a green bin. With recycling, there’s processing that’s necessary and there’s a bit more work, like sorting and cleaning, required from the consumer.”
The amount of single-use plastics, such as coffee pods, is staggering. Billions of pods end up in landfills every year. As one of the world’s top three coffee-loving countries, Canadians want solutions to minimize that waste and divert nutrient rich coffee grounds back to compost and back to the earth.
Traditional plastic recycling of some pods is an option, but it’s not as easy as consumers would like. They have to separate the foil lid, clean out the grounds, and remove a paper filter inside of the cup, and even that may not be enough for recyclers. A better alternative was needed.
Compostable coffee pods reduce plastic waste
Toronto-based company Club Coffee has risen to the challenge and introduced compostable coffee pods. “We understand that consumers want solutions to single-use plastic waste in our environment,” explains company CEO John Pigott. “Listening to them led us to create a compostable coffee pod. We saw many ideas and innovations out there that we could build on in collaboration with academic experts and other partner businesses to make a difference for consumers and the environment.”
Club Coffee’s goal was to give consumers the compostable pod they wanted. “We’re doing that now with Loblaw Companies Limited and other partners,” says Pigott. “That’s just the start. We’re working on more innovations in sustainable packaging that can get us past throwaway plastic for good.”
For its part, Loblaw Companies Limited values collaborations with industry partners to implement innovative solutions that have positive impacts on the environment. “It was incredibly important that we could offer great tasting, convenient coffee in a more environmentally-responsible packaging format, and sell it at the same price as before,” says Ian Gordon, Senior Vice President of Loblaw Brands Limited. “We’re proud to partner with other Canadian companies and to work together to achieve greater results. We’re always bringing innovation to the industry, and there are times, like with PC® Single-Serve Compostable Coffee Pods, where we need to strategically collaborate with partners to succeed.”
Switching to compostable coffee pods can make a significant impact. “Our network of compost facility owners appreciate that extra steps have been taken to field test the disintegration of the compostable pod in various composting processes, as spent coffee is a highly-valued input for making great soil amendments,” says Susan Thoman, Managing Director of the Compost Manufacturing Alliance (US).
The benefit of strong partnerships and the larger-scale use of compostable and plant-based materials for consumers is that they will make newer technology more affordable, as well as more widely available and adopted. As Dr. Charlebois notes, “I think, as a society, we’re going to have to make some choices.” With partnerships and innovations to address the single-use plastic challenge, those choices are clearer.
Three Surprising Facts About Single-Use Plastics
Dalhousie University’s report, The Single Use Plastics Dilemma: Perceptions and Possible Solutions, contains some riveting findings:
- >> Canadians are largely united about the need for change. Almost 94 percent of respondents are personally motivated to reduce single-use plastic food packaging because of its environmental impacts. Residents of Quebec and the Atlantic provinces are the most motivated.
- >> More than 70 percent said they support a ban of all single-use plastics in food packaging, although adopting new technologies was preferred to outright bans.
- >> Biodegradable and compostable solutions are the most popular with Canadians.
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